Oregon lawmakers vote to outlaw suicide kit sales

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 16, 2011 5:53 PM
Oregon lawmakers vote to outlaw suicide kit sales

By Teresa Carson

PORTLAND, Ore (Reuters) - The Oregon Legislature gave final approval on Thursday to a bill that would outlaw sales of suicide kits such as the apparatus used by a man from Eugene to kill himself late last year.

The measure, which cleared the Oregon Senate on a 30-0 vote after the state House of Representatives approved it Monday, now goes to the desk of Governor John Kitzhaber, a Democrat who has yet to take a position on it.

Even if Kiztzhaber, a former emergency room physician, declines to the sign the measure, it will become law automatically in five days unless he vetoes it first.

Sponsors say the bill would not limit a landmark 1997 state law legalizing physician-assisted suicides for terminally ill individuals in Oregon. Washington is the only other state with such a statute on the books.

The newly passed bill was sparked by notoriety surrounding an elderly California woman who sells self-asphyxiation kits through a mail-order business. One of her customers, 29-year-old Nicholas Klonoski, committed suicide in December.

Sharlotte Hydorn, 91, a retired science teacher and great-grandmother who lives near San Diego, said her kit is intended to help people with incurable, fatal illnesses end their lives with dignity in their own homes.

But critics, including Klonoski's brother, have faulted Hydorn for not screening potential buyers of her kits, which they say she peddles indiscriminately to customers who may be emotionally fragile, rather than terminally ill.

Klonoski's family said he suffered from depression but was otherwise healthy when he used one of Hydorn's kits to take his own life around Christmas time.

The kits, which Hydorn sells for $60 apiece including shipping, consist of a plastic hood that closes around the neck and tubing that connects the hood to a tank of helium or other inert gas, which the patients supply themselves.

The new Oregon bill would make it a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, for a person to sell "any substance or object that is capable of causing death to another person for the purpose of assisting the other person to commit suicide."

Oregon's assisted suicide law allows physicians to prescribe life-ending medication to terminally ill patients, though the patients must be physically capable of administering the drug to themselves.

State records show that 525 Oregonians have ended their lives under the statute since 1997.

Hydorn has said sales of her product, which she calls "exit kits," jumped sharply as a result of media attention stemming from Klonoski's death and reaction to it in Oregon. She said much of her recent business has come from Oregon.

Armed federal agents raided her home last month and seized cartons of documents, computers and sewing machines under a search warrant Hydorn said accused her of conspiracy, mail fraud, tax evasion and the "sale of (an) adulterated or misbranded medical device."

(Editing by Steve Gorman and Greg McCune)